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"The concept of a gender binary is simply flawed," Meade says. "It's a throwback. We need to come to the realization that is what is wrong. It's not that somebody like me is disordered. I function quite fine. What's disordered is society's expectations around the gender binary, the lack of acceptance that says it's OK for children to be bullied in schools."
A 2011 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 90 percent of the 6,450 people surveyed nationwide had experienced "harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job."
Chapters of the Kansas Equality Coalition in Wichita, Salina, Hutchinson and Pittsburg are pushing their city governments to pass inclusive anti-discrimination policies. The Lawrence City Council voted 4-1 in favor of such a policy last September. Kansas City and Jackson County have enacted legislation to protect transgender people from discrimination in housing and the workplace, but Meade worries that a $500 fine for violating the ordinance is not a real deterrent.
"We don't have a public-relations problem," Meade says. "We have a politics problem."
Change may be slow in state government, but there has been a seismic shift occurring in churches across the nation. The United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination with 1.2 million members, passed a resolution in 2003 recognizing transgender ministers.
Donna Ross, 58, wasn't thinking about preaching when she joined Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ in Brookside. She was turning back to the faith that she had lost while struggling to live as a man for the first 50 years of her life.
"Once I embraced who I was, I needed to address the spiritual side of me," Ross says. "Maybe now that I feel whole and authentic, I believe I'm worthy of salvation."
A sportscaster for more than three decades, Ross had unintentionally been cultivating a voice for delivering sermons from a pulpit. She believes that the ministry was a calling for her, and the United Church of Christ's openness allows her to use her gift of speech. Yet Ross, a recent graduate of the Missouri School of Religion in Jefferson City, was nervous about how her classmates might view her.
"I know it was an eye-opener for them," Ross says. "But it was for me, too ... to find acceptance from people that grew up in small towns and rural areas from around Missouri."
One day, Ross hopes to lead a congregation of her own. Until then, she fills in at local churches. For Ross, this is a chance to spread the Gospel and rectify what she sees as some Christians' misguided views of the transgender community.
"The Bible does not say God made man, God made woman, and you should not change from one to the other," Ross says.
A cross always hangs from Nikkie's neck, usually beneath a stylish leather jacket and blond hair that curls at the tips. Raised Irish Catholic, she bears the weight of going to work each day as a man.
"This is how I finance my personal journey," Nikkie says. "It's just a steppingstone. Work is the automobile to get me to my destination."
Nikkie is a linchpin in the Kansas City male-to-female transitioning population. She hosts a support group to address issues such as putting on makeup, shopping, and the actions or gestures that most girls learn in adolescence. Her hope is to help these trans women build the confidence to attend Girlz Night Out, a weekly social gathering held at downtown bars for the past three years that has attracted more than 100 trans women from as far away as Oklahoma.